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tv   Hampton Roads Conference of 1865  CSPAN  February 21, 2015 2:00pm-3:36pm EST

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and negotiated to end the civil war. mr. conroy is the author of "our one common country -- abraham lincoln and the hampton roads peace conference. " this includes many photographs that have been recently colorized, the museum of the confederacy in richmond virginia hosted this 90 minute event. >> i really appreciate this honor, to be invited to speak here at this facility, particularly as a connecticut yankee. i apologize for bringing connecticut yankee weather with me. me, but we have to make due with what we have. i think that most of you will have seen the steven spielberg movie, "lincoln," and if you do, if you have, perhaps you remember the subtext of the
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movie was the subject of peace negotiations between the north and the south at the very end of the civil war, which is the subject of the book. it's a shorthand way for me to introduce it to people because most people who have the fainted -- faintest interest in the subject will have seen the movie. the cover of the book is on the projector, which redepicts a meeting between lincoln and grant and sherman and admiral porter, who was the senior union admiral at the time. on the steamship river queen which was the air force one of its time, as i like to think of it. and it was the chamber, or the compartment on the river queen that you see on the cover of the book that the peace conference took place, about a month or
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month and a half prior to this meeting between lincoln and his military leaders. the artist who painted the picture in 1868 entitled it "the peacemakers" which i have always thought was titled with some conscious irony that took light of the fact that the peace conference that had taken place in that same department had failed and the war was ended violently by the generals and the admiral and not by the peacemakers. there's much more in the book, of course, than i can cover at this presentation, but i think that the summary of it all is that this is the story of five old friends, lincoln, his secretary of state william surd seward and those who had been friends for many years. seward had been a close friend of all three of the southern peace commissioners.
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lincoln, as we'll see, a close friend of the head of the delegation. they'd all worked together before the war to try to avert it. and had now come together at the end to try to stop it. that's what drew me to the subject to begin with and what i've tried to do in the book is to portray a very character-driven intimate view of what it was like to be there and to work on this crucial effort to stop this war and to reconcile the two sections and the people of the two sections before it ended violently. i will tell you with regard to the images i'm going to be showing you that some of them are black and white photographs and engravings of the time, but
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many are the product of a new technology that i think you'll find pretty startling. whereby black and white photographs of that period have been converted to color. using photoshop technology. i think some of them you'll find to be quite startling in their accuracy and immediacy. we begin, i think, with lincoln at the time of his election in 1860. a 51-year-old vigorous optimistic, healthy man, and then look at lincoln at the time of the hampton roads peace conference four years later. after he had experienced what he did in that period of time.
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a portrait painter who was living in the white house and painting his picture at that exact point in time described it as the saddest face i ever knew. there were days when i could scarcely look into it without crying. in my generation, 58,000 young americans lost their lives in a 12-year span in the vietnam war. in the civil war, as many of you know, current estimates tell us that about 700,000 young men their lives, out of a population -- lost their lives, out of a population less than 10% of our population today in a period of only four years. it's really almost an unimaginable tragedy. with the election of lincoln in 1860, what he wanted to achieve most at that time was the saves of the union. by 1865, after 4 years of this
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carnage, what lincoln wanted most was to end that war as quickly and as painlessly as possible and to begin the process of healing the country and reconciling its people. friends have asked me, you know, why this hampton roads peace conference was important. what difference would it really have made if the war had ended in february at the time of that conference instead of in april when it finally did end? this young man lost his life in march of 1865.
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would have made a difference to him. would have made a difference to his family. and it certainly would have made a difference to the roughly 10,000 people who lost their lives between february and april of 1865. which, again, is almost a staggering statistic. given that two-month period of time to have lost 10,000 young americans when those lives could have been saved and, of course many more were maimed. and then there were the civilians. general william tecumseh sherman took atlanta in september of 1864, about 5 months before the peace conference and began his infamous march to the sea. "i am going into the very bows of the confederacy," sherman -- bowels of the confederacy," sherman said, "and propose to leave a trail that will be recognized 50 years hence." mary mary chestnut was the wife of a former united states senator from south carolina. some of you may remember her from the ken burns series on the civil war. she made an entry in her diary when she learned that atlanta had fallen. "no hope," she said, "we will try to have no fear."
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these are the ruins of columbia, south carolina, after sherman's troops moved up from georgia and destroyed it two weeks after the hampton roads peace conference. "columbia is but dust and ash," she said. "men, women and children are left there homeless without a particle of food. socialites were surviving on scraps of scattered corn left bond the ground by sherman's horses." this is a union mortar, one of many that were brought down by rail that were battering petersburg, virginia, at the time of the hampton roads conference. as you know, not far south of richmond. these are the ruins of petersburg, achieved, if you will, by the effect of those mortars and that shelling on men, women and children who live there.
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women -- after four horrific years of that sort of thing, the war had almost broken lincoln as well as the south. apart from saving lives and property, lincoln wanted to end it by agreement rather conquest. to spare the south humiliation of defeat and reconcile the people as quickly and effectively as possible. in december of 1864, he had little or no hope that the confederate government would negotiate its own demise and made an annual address to congress that basically reached out to the southern people. and implored them to end the war simply by refusing to keep fighting it. on only three conditions. first, that there would be no truth short of a final end to the war.
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second, that the union would be restored. and third, that there would be no backwards steps on slavery on the part of the executive. unspoken by leaving open the prospect of some kind of negotiation on details, ways and means, through the legislatures, the congress, and the courts. every other american war had ended and had negotiated peace. the revolution, the war of 1812, and the mexican war. it was the custom of the time, it was the norm. we've become more accustomed, i think, in our day to the thought of unconditional surrender in major wars between nation states, but that was not the norm at the time, and everyone anticipated that a war would end by negotiation. by the end of 1864, the outcome of the civil war was quite clear to anyone who could see and count and appreciate the reality of the situation, but there were very formidable obstacles blocking a negotiated peace.
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the first of which i think it's fair to say is the insurgent leader as lincoln called him. declining to refer him as president and therefore to acknowledge legitimacy of the confederacy. this is jefferson davis in his prime. a westpoint graduate. had spent seven years in the united states army. was a hero of the mexican war. had been wounded seriously at the head of an elite unit called the mississippi rifles. and was a national war hero. not simply a southern hero or political figure. he was a masterful senate speaker in the united states senate. very charismatic. very talented politician. and well regarded on both sides of the mason dixon line.
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william seward was a fiercely anti-slavery senator from new york, as many of you know. was jefferson davis' close friend as well as one of his most formidable adversaries. seward referred to davis at the time as a splendid embodiment of manhood. their colleague, sam houston took a different view. ambitious as lucifer and cold as a lizard. but as the south's charismatic champion in the senate, if you will, davis developed a reputation as time went on of being a, generally an opponent of the kind of compromise that others were trying to achieve in the middle 1850s. he once gave a speech regarding the compromise of 1850 opposing it, saying that he was doing so,
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"proud in the consciousness of my own rectitude, regarding degraded letter writers with the indifference which belongs to the assurance that i am right and the security with which the approval of my constituents invest me." i think we hear echoes of that kind of thing in the year 2014 as well. [laughter] this is a middle-aged jefferson davis as the threat of disunion disunion intensified in the 1850's. and in that period, davis vacillated between compromise and aggression and seemed to be wrestling with himself as much as with his critics. at one point expressing in a single speech a superstitious reverence for the union and a willingness to leave the south out of it. this portrait of davis was painted in 1863. the high water mark, if you will, of the sovereign war for
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independence. two years later, in 1865, a friend found him, "so emaciated and altered as not to be recognized." i've not seen a picture of davis in 1865, but we can imagine the stress and the burden that was jefferson davis's at that time. he had a clouded left eye that could see only darkness and light. his right arm and hand often shook from a painful nerve disease. he had lost 20 or 30 pounds and was in a very strange condition both physically and emotionally as was lincoln. and there were certainly no frivolity in him. this was his life, no doubt, in a somewhat younger time, who says in his memoirs that mr. davis cast a critical eye at the wardrobes of rich men's ladies and described one that
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mispleased him as very high colored and full of tags, and you could see her afar off. devoted though she was to her husband, even barina recalled him in those memoirs as, "a nervous dyspeptic. ill served by a repellent manner. so thin skinned that even a child's disapproval discomposed him." in 1865, there was much to be discomposed about. the confederacy was cut in two by the loss of the mississippi. much of it was occupied. almost all of its ports were occupied or closed. it was being strangled by a union blockade. its armies had outfought the north more often than not but they had been bled by that effort.
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as the book says, one tubercular draftee was constricted for ten days' service here in richmond and died on the 11th. the draft pool was depleted. georgia and north carolina had pretty much withdrawn themselves from it. there were growing demands for negotiations from many in the south. and the georgia/north carolina legislatures were debating the prospect of a separate piece. none of it moved jeff davis who was heard to say, well, walking past a group of young boys playing in a richmond park that the people of the south would eat rats and their 12-year-old and 14-year-old sons would have their trial before this war was over. in 1864, he had sent word to lincoln that he would be happy to negotiate peace on the basis of independence, but it would be, "useless to approach me with
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any other." this, as you all this, as you all know, as richmond folk, is the capitol here in richmond designed by thomas jefferson. and it was here that the confederate house and senate met. and as adamantly as davis, the confederate congress was unanimous in rejecting the prospect of a union right up until the end of the war. even the unionists among them would not admit that unionists they were. it was unspeakable in richmond to take that position. but just about every other position that jefferson davis took was greeted with howls of protest by the confederate congress and the confederate senate, with a very small and diminishing group of davis loyalists as the war went on. that's not well understood in
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the north or even otherwise today, but he was besieged by critics and enemies, political and otherwise, right here in richmond with an increasingly dysfunctional government. again, a phenomenon that we're not entirely unfamiliar with. there was a time when the house proposed to make a courtesy call on the president and was so shouted down that they had to take a roll call vote on whether they would do that or not. three of richmond's four newspapers were hostile to davis. the fourth was pretty much davis' own organ, as it was described. but the press was just vitriolic in its condemnation of jefferson
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davis right here in richmond. this is senator louis wigfall, a confederate senator from texas who had been a davis ally. wigfall called his president an amalgam of malice and mediocrity. those were the words being said about jefferson davis. in washington, meanwhile lincoln, too, was under fire both from the left and from the right. this cartoon appeared in a democratic newspaper in the 1864 election and it features columbia, the embodiment of america, demanding that lincoln return her children. the draftees that he had conscripted, the rolled up scroll on the bottom speaks of 500,000 of columbia's children being drawn into the war, and democrats at the time were primarily southern sympathizing. the party was rooted in the south.
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after the two sections split the democrats by in large continued to be sympathetic to the south and favored negotiation. the more extreme of them we referred to by the opposition as copperheads who were pretty much in favor of peace at any price. war democrats who were supportive of the war but only to the extend of achieving reunion and with little, if any, interest in abolition as a war goal. even some moderate republicans like horace greeley here were pushing lincoln hard for peace. horace greeley i like to think of as the walter cronkite of his time.
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was the editor of the "new york tribune." the most influential, the most powerful journalist in america certainly in the north. and had been very much an advocate and supporter of the war. when grant began to suffer horrific casualties in the spring of 1864, losing 95,000 men in 2 months in may and june of 1864, horace greeley turned against the war as walter cronkite did in the late 1960s with the vietnam war and began to push the people against the war and toward the negotiation camp. on the other side of the spectrum, this is a republican cartoon from the 1864 election
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drawn by thomas nast who later became the scourge in new york. and the theme of the cartoon is that compromise with the south would be a disgrace, a rebuke, if you will, to the northern soldiers who died in the war and anathema to the republican side of the political spectrum at that time. essentially the theme being that compromise of the south would dishonor the dead and nullify all the sacrifices that had been made in the war. this is thaddeus stevens who was the, perhaps the most well-known of the radical republicans at the time. he was the chairman of the house ways and means committee at the time from pennsylvania. very brilliant man but a whit. even if he attacked andrew
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johnson on more than one occasion on the floor of the house. one of johnson's supporters rose in his defense and said he would remind the gentlemen that mr. johnson was a self-made man, to which stevens replied, glad to hear it. relieves god almighty of a heavy responsibility. [laughter] he was hard on lincoln as well and completely opposed to negotiations with anybody. this is a contemporary northern cartoon of jefferson davis on the platform that the cartoonists believed he should be standing. the radical republicans, many of them, were bent on hanging not only davis, but as one of them called it, a bakers dozen of the other confederate leaders when the war was over, and a more
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vehement radical republican said there should be three times that many hanged. the radicals said that the south, the southern states, had committed suicide, as they put it. when they seceded from the union, and that once the war was over, that the south should be governed as england governs india. basically as a vanquished tribe without any political rights at all. gideon wells was the secretary of the navy under lincoln who called him uncle gideon. very fond of him. he was an old democrat. a contemporary called him a man of no decorations. he told you what he thought without the varnish. he wrote a great diary which historians have found invaluable, as i did. and in the fall of 1864, uncle gideon says in his diary that lincoln is bent on finding a way to end this war peacefully.
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but the question is, how? davis won't negotiate for reunion. lincoln won't davis at all. because to do so would, in his view, legitimatize him and recognize the legitimacy of the confederate government. and acknowledge some sort of lawful authority there which lincoln was not willing to do. there is the dilemma. as uncle gideon said in his diary, "the president says he cannot treat with the jeff davis government, but who will he treat with, and how commence the work? " the work commenced in december of 1864 with this man, francis preston blair. blair was an old jacksonian. a member after andrew jackson's kitchen cabinet, as they called
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it. a circle of close advisers with no formal office but with great influence on the president. he had been born here in virginia, raised and made his fortune in kentucky and came to washington in the 1830s to work with jackson and had stayed. he had those deep southern roots. deep southern sympathies. but was fiercely pro-union. liked to refer to himself as jackson's voice from the grave. having that same profile as jackson had. he had a country home outside of washington called silver spring which is the origin of the town. because a stream ran through it. and he was also the patriarch of blairhouse across the street from the white house to this day where diplomats and distinguished foreign visitors are housed.
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he's one of the founders of the republican party, having been a democrat all his life. and was in a unique position to try to bridge this seemingly unbridge unbridgeable gap between lincoln and davis. he was a mentor to lincoln, who called him the old gentleman and frequent guest at the white house. lincoln was a frequent guest at silver springs. he loved to visit and get some relaxation. and blair had been a father figure to jefferson davis. he had known davis since davis was 13-years-old and went to transylvania university. they'd taken him under their wing, groomed them, introduced him to the social circle and political circle in washington when davis was elected to congress. and had worked with him closely ever since. they vacationed together, the davises and the blairs. and when blair's daughter wrote to her husband, an admiral in
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the u.s. navy and cousin of robert e. lee, she would refer to, quote, our oakland cronies because the blairs and davises had vacationed together in oakland, maryland, and didn't want letters around in the united states navy talking about their goods friends, the davises. so francis preston blair then was in truly a unique position to try to find some way to bring these men together. at christmastime of 1864, blair went to the white house and sat down with lincoln and reminded him of his friendship with davis. and told him he had a plan to end the war and would like to go to richmond to present it to davis. before he could describe that plan, lincoln put his hand up and said, i don't want to hear it. if you want to go to richmond, i'm not going to stop you, but you're not going to go with my
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authority. you can speak for yourself and do what you choose to do but i don't want to know what you're going to say there. that would be called plausible deniability about 100 years later. so lincoln gave blair a pass the size of a laundry ticket to go to the union lines to richmond. no other authority. formal or informal. and blair began a kind of shuttle diplomacy between richmond and washington that went on for a period of several weeks. when he passed through the lines, grant was entrenched opposite lee just south of here in the petersburg area, as many of you know, and lee basically blocking grant's route up to richmond. and blair passed through grant's headquarters on his way down to richmond at that time at a place called city point.
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this is city point. which was nine miles northeast from the petersburg siege line on the james river. it had been basically an empty space, almost, before the war, but was turned into the military metropolis that you can see here when grant made it his headquarters. grant is the second man on the left on the bench in what might be called a candid casual shot the like of which i didn't think existed in the civil war. but this is one such image. blair told grant what his plan was, unlike lincoln. it's plain that grant was enthusiastic about the plan, as is further described in the book. and was as eager as anyone could be to end this war peacefully if it could be ended and became what amounts to a co-conspirator with blair and as will be seen with the southerners who came
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through later, all that's described in the book. grant passed blair through to richmond on the union flag called the city of new york. which shuttled back and forth from the union to confederate lines when there was some need to communicate with the rebel army. blair then came to the executive mansion next door here from where we sit. was greeted warmly at the door by the davises, as the old friend that he was. someone overheard her say, as she threw her arms around him, oh, you rascal, i'm overjoyed to see you.
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which as the "richmond examiner" soon said did not do the president credit. [laughter] they had dinner together. they reminisced about old times and she left the men alone. the dialogue between them is very well documented by both of them and, again, explained in detail in the book. i think it's quite a fascinating conversation. but blair presented what we would call today a plan that is lightly described as thinking out of the box. what he proposed to do was end the war, save the union, preserve the south from defeat and free the slaves. all at the same time. how would one do this? blair's idea was that a combined force of union and confederate troops would liberate mexico.
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and we'll get into a little bit more of that in a moment. this is bonito juarez, at the time the elected president of mexico and a scourge of the ruling class as the first native-american ever to head a national government. napoleon iii in france knew an opportunity when he saw one. in 1864, with the north and the south distracted by their war, napoleon sent 30,000 french troops to mexico to install this man, the arch duke ferdinand sorry, the arch duke maximilian of austria as the emperor of mexico. essentially asserted or puppet for napoleon the third. this was all done in a short order. maximilian became the emperor and france now had a very substantial hold in north america to find the monroe
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doctrine while the americans were otherwise engaged. blair's plan amounted to this. he would move that, his troops the army of northern virginia, to, quote, more defensive positions, close quote, to the southwest of richmond. abandon richmond, start moving southwest. grant would pursue lee with his forces in hot pursuit, as blair put it, although not so hot as to catch him. lee would have a two or three-day lead on grant, and the two armies would move southwest and keep moving southwest until lee crossed the rio grande and encountered these 30,000 french troops in mexico. provoked the french troops who would then attack lee.
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one american army being attacked by a foreign army, the other would jump to its defense. grant would join lee. whip the french. take mexico. and re-enact the triumphal entry into mexico city that had won the mexican war. and once these union and confederate troops had fought together and defeated this foreign army together and reunited on these old battlefields, reunion would come as night the day, and everything would fall into place. there would be no political problems. it would just happen. and in return for the looting of mexico, the south would give up slavery and jefferson davis would become the governor of mexico.
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far from scoffing at this pipe dream, jefferson davis appeared to endorse it. he told davis that in short that he thought this was a remarkable plan. couldn't see why this wouldn't work. and prepared a letter to blair to be shown to lincoln so that davis would not be communicating directly to lincoln but through blair. this letter said he, davis, was willing to send or receive agents to negotiate peace for, quote, the two countries, closed quote. those last words, of course, should have been fatal to any thought of negotiation, but blair took him to mean that the two would become one in mexico. that was the sense blair drew from it. while blair was in richmond, he visited what many leaders of the
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growing peace movement including this man, alexander hamilton stevens. who was davis' vice president as well as one of his fiercest critics. stevens was about as pure a states rights advocate as one could think of, and davis was a strong central government guy. at least during the tendency of the war, when it was necessary in his view to have a strong central government. so they went head to head from the beginning publicly and vehemently. stevens was a sickly little fellow. he was never 100 pounds heavy. sometimes weighed as little add 8 as 90 pounds and called by friends and foe alike, little alec. a feisty, feisty guy. a judge with a knife had invited three men to a duel, none of
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whom took him up on it, but was generally very well regarded in the south and in the north before the war. and is described in great detail in the book. stevens suffered from a wide range of serious illnesses and chronic diseases that kept him perpetually infirm. one of his friends referred to him as a fugitive from a graveyard. and another said he'd never had two weeks' purchase on life. davis was contemptuous of stevens not only for political reasons but also because stevens was a very moderate conciliatory figure before the war as opposed to davis. davis had called him the little pale star from georgia.
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in response to which stevens called davis an imbecile. these were their public exchanges. stevens and others who met with blair told blair that there were many important people in the south who were eager for peace and eager to find a way around davis to negotiate it. blair said they could get good terms now if they were willing to come to the table, come to the union like they came out with all the rights and privileges of states, that lincoln would accept some kind of gradual emancipation plan that could be worked out and that it would be better to work a deal to come back into the union than to be conquered. lincoln received all of this when blair came back and reported to him with what seems to be more than a little skepticism about davis' willingness to negotiate for reunion. no interest in the mexican pipe dream but the peace movement blair informed him about in detail and previously been either completely unknown to him or very dimly understood.
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so lincoln focused once again now on ways to go around davis. if he could. and find a way to get this negotiated peace. in spite of davis rather than because of him. lincoln wrote a letter to blair to take back to richmond which wrote you see here, and lincoln said he was ready to receive any agent that davis or any oath ur influential person now resisting the national authority might -- any other influential person now resisting the national authority might informally send to him with a view to securing peace to our one common country. you can see where the letter ends. this was read by some and i think well read as an invitation
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to a coup. when lincoln writes to blair that he's to go back to richmond and encourage davis or any other influential person to send him agents, the only authorized person that could send him agents was davis. he was looking for a way around davis. blair returned to richmond with that letter. davis read it in his presence twice and looked up at blair waiting for blair to say something. blair said, well, you see, mr. davis, the difference between two countries in your letter and one common country in mr. lincoln's letter, davis nods and says, yes, he understood and he understood where lincoln's position was on this. he said he would send agents to lincoln, which blair took to mean an acceptance of negotiating for reunion.
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at that point, davis names three confederate leaders to make up this peace delegation. including of all people alexander hamilton stevens. his most public and private enemy. lincoln and stevens had been close friends in the congress of 1848, in a common effort opposing the mexican war. mexican war being a popular and lucrative one that brought most of the southwest and all of california into the united states, and lincoln and davis had been leaders of the opposition to that war together.
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they had then corresponded after lincoln was elected in 1860. lincoln had initiated an exchange of letters between them to see if stevens could help him find some way to keep the south in the union. which stevens had, in fact tried to do. the next member of the delegation was john campbell. a former united states supreme court justice from mobile, alabama, who was another anti-davis dove. he was the assistant secretary of war here in richmond and may have been the smartest man in america, as i say in the book. he was admitted to the future university of georgia at the age of 11. graduated first in his class at 14. went on to west point from which he resigned when his father died. became a lawyer at the age of 18. which required an act of the legislature. and was the south's best legal mind before he was 30 years old. franklin pierce appointed him to the supreme court at the age of
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41. he had taken what was probably the most progressive view on slavery a southerner could take at the time and remain on the public stage. he advocated vigorously, publicly for the education of slaves. for laws banning the separation of slaves' families for very stringent measures to exterminate what he called the depraved slave trade and took a great deal of heat for all of that. and had become assistant secretary of war with the sole purpose as he describes it as trying to find some way to end the war. he also worked very closely with seward, lincoln's secretary of state during the ft. sumter crisis to try to avoid that without success. the third member and last member of the southern peace delegation was senator robert m.t. hunter of virginia. yet another davis antagonist. a virginia aristocrat, if you will. he had been educated at the university of virginia in its first class with edgar allan poe. had gone on to congress and
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become the youngest speaker of the house in history at, get this, 32 years of age. and had gone on from there to become a distinguished united states senator and was another union man before the war had come up with a pretty bizarre plan to save the union involving two presidents, one northern one southern with rotating portfolios and all sorts of other goldberg contraptions which were sort of laughed out of the hall at the time. but had made every effort he could make to try to keep the union together. and was now the president pro tempore of the confederate senate. third in line for the presidency. so why does davis appoint three of his most talented well-known enemies to negotiate for the
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life and death of the south? there are different theories about this. own conclusion sifting through the evidence, given it a great deal of thought is he was deliberately setting them up to fail. that this peace movement was gaining steam. there was enormous pressure on him to negotiate with lincoln. so he turns around and says, great, you want a negotiation, i'm going to pick our three leading men, let's see what they can do. giving them a mandate to agree to any treaty lincoln might oppose as long as it didn't include reunion which of course had been the premise of the letter lincoln had sent inviting the negotiations. davis summons his commissioners to the executive mission. he hadn't spoken to his vice president in a year and a half. basically gave them no instructions, told them to use their best judgment and go up there and see lincoln, see what you can do, as long as it
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doesn't involve reunion. they knew from the outset what that meant and what the consequence of that would be. but as the book describes in detail that i can't get into for lack of time here, they were determined to find a way if not to end the war, at least begin the process of finding a way to end this war. they took a train down to petersburg together the next day. having been given this mission to negotiate an end to the war. no instructions. no diplomatic training. got on a train, went down to petersburg to give that a try. on sunday, january 29th, their military aide who had been assigned to accompany them showed up at the union lines. south of petersburg. with a white flag.
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en and informed the federal officers that three leaders of the confederate government had arrived, that general grant was expecting them. which is what blair had told davis. that grant would be expecting them. and that they were here to end the war. stanton, edwin stanton lincoln's secretary of war, was the fiercest hawk in washington, certainly one of them. a very domineering dictatorial man. lincoln called him mars from time to time. and stanton was flatly opposed to anything like negotiation. determined on a military victory, completely determined to stop anything less. when these three peace commissioners arrived at the union lines, grant grant was away in north carolina and had left as a second in command a general edward orde, who wired stanton, told him these three peace commissioners had arrived and said that grant was expecting them and asked for
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instructions. stanton sends back a wire that basically leaps off the page. you can hear mars roaring, as i say in the book. he tells general orde that this department knows nothing about any peace commissioners, certainly about no understanding with general grant. you are to keep them on their side of the lines until further orders. couldn't have been a more emphatic order. william seward, lincoln's secretary of state, and stanton's right arm, among many others', was probably the closest to lincoln at this time, former governor of new york, former distinguished united states senator. everyone called him governor because the office of governor was considered the highest office so he carried that title. he had been a hero of anti-slavery movement in the north, the devil himself in the south and ironically probably the softest of all the union leaders on the south and on the
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notion of reconciling with the south with the possible exception of lincoln himself. so the two figures who were at the bottom of the demonology of the southern political view, lincoln and seward, were probably the most willing to accommodate the south and find some way to bring them back without more violence. seward hated to be photographed, as i think you can see from the look on his face. but he was as charming a guy as he was disingenuous. just about everybody liked him and just about nobody trusted him. as i said in the book, he was born and raised wealthy in upstate new york in its unpretentious style. he was everyone's favorite dinner guest with a highly contagious fondness for provocative conversation amazing children, expensive wine, knee slapping stories and the widespread expectation of his future presidency.
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fire breathing slave holders who evolved him on the senate floor entertained him in their homes begalled like everyone else. seward was everyone's friend and everyone's enemy at the same time. lincoln sent him down to fort monroe, hampton roads, to be ready to meet there with these three southern peace commissioners once he learned they were coming. as we'll see in a moment, he was going to be sure first, if he could, that those peace commissioners were serious about reunion before he would let the meeting take place. on the day that lincoln was sent down to hampton roads, the house of representatives was set to vote on the 13th amendment banning slavery. this is the house chamber, same chamber we have today, though at that time it was quite new thaddeus stevens there.
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that day to be the vote -- against, this is treated as the main theme of the lincoln movie for those of you who have seen it. the emancipation proclamation, its post-war effect was very dubious. there was a lot of debate about whether it was going to be effective after the war or not. the 13th amendment was going to cure that problem, by amending the constitution to ban slavery permanently as a matter of law. the house was a very close thing, basically a coin toss. the republicans were unanimously for it. enough democrats, they thought had been cajoled or threatened
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or bought literally to support the amendment, but it was a very close thing and no one was sure which way it would go. hearing that peace envoys were coming that very day, the democrats started to cave. their thinking being if the southerners were talking about negotiating back into the union, we're not going to abolish slavery and drive them back out. they were losing power at the very time the vote was to take place. james ashman of toledo was the floor manager for the 13th amendment at the time. he had comforted john brown's widow on the day john brown was hanged. he was one of the leading abolitionists in the congress. lincoln received a note from ashley, literally as he was writing his instructions to seward to go down to hampton roads.
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the note comes in from a messenger. it says, "we are in danger of losing this vote because there are rumors here that peace commissioners are in the city or are about to come to the city. can you deny this? because if you don't, we're going to lose this vote." lincoln writes a note on the back of ashley's note as follows -- "so far as i know there are no peace commissioners in the city or likely to be in it. a. lincoln." and then honest abe sent seward down the road to negotiate with these peace commissioners who aren't going to be in the city. the vote on abolition of slavery carried in the house by a margin of two votes. there is no way that would have happened without this deception by lincoln.
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the peace commissioners crossed the lines from lee's army into grant's at the very hour that this vote was taken. too late for the truth to be known on capitol hill. i'm going to spend a few moments on how that came to pass. i think it's a fascinating story. it's what really drew me to the book to begin with. stanton again was dead set against peace negotiations and when he heard that these negotiators were coming, he convinces lincoln to send down to see them first major thomas eckert, who was stanton's watch dog. he was the head of the military telegraph, he had an office adjacent to stanton's, the personification of a petty bureaucrat. never wore a uniform, had never been truly a military man, had the rank of a major but was basically stanton's hatchet man is what it comes down to.
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and lincoln gave him instructions to go down and talk to these peace commissioners at city point and to let them pass only if they would say in writing that they were ready for reunion. and otherwise not, to send them back. grant in the meantime was determined to get these peace envoys through to lincoln by fair means or foul. despite stanton's orders, his civilian superior, whom he despised. grant and stanton had been in a running battle for years. in 1862, as i say in the book, grant had been in command in tennessee before he became general in chief. stanton and his man, general henry halak, who was then the general and chief of the union armies, urged grant not to share his military plans with lincoln.
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don't tell the boss what your military plans are, he's so soft hearted, he's going to tell the first friend who comes in and ask them questions about them. grant says in miss memoirs he took their advice and improved on it. "i did not communicate my plans to the president, nor did i communicate them to the secretary of war or to general halak." on another occasion when sherman left atlanta on his way to savannah on his march to the sea, grant says after the war to mark twain that he had received instructions from washington to stop sherman, don't let him cut his telegraph wires, don't let him get out of touch with us and go off on his observant through georgia. grant tells mark twain i stopped sherman for 24 hours and thinking that was deference enough to the government, i started him up again. [laughter] this kind of thing would be
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unthinkable today of course. i was really shocked and stunned to the extent to which grant ignored not only stanton's order to hold these people at the lines, if you recall stanton had sent that wire saying keep them right there. grant comes back from north carolina, waves them through immediately, sends his chief aide to get them and escort them to city point. his headquarters. and their passage through lee's lines to grant's i think is quite an event, which is described at greater length in the book. this is one of the union forts on the petersburg seize line. the war department called it fort sedgwick and its residents called it fort hell. it was within a few hundred yards, 200 or 300 yards of the confederate lines, open to snipers, mortars, artillery 24
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hours a day throughout this siege, which basically took nine months. basically the first instance of french warfare that their -- french -- trench warfare that their grandsons would be fighting to the 50 years in the future. this is the fort threw which the commissioners passed as they came across the siege line. there were 50,000, give or take, confederate troops in the army of northern virginia, most of of them ragged, hungry, a great many of them barefoot in weather like what we're seeing today for a period of months. most of them hanging on by sheer determination and willpower. the union army had more than twice as many troops, over 100,000 men, well fed, beautifully equipped, it's very well armed. this man is sitting on boxes and boxes of flour.
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this overwhelming army had failed to dislodge lee and his men from his decision. they have conducted this trench warfare ever since. this is a union picket line opposite this confederate fort that was across no man's land from fort hell which was called fort damnation. the area in between was known as no man's land as it often is today but also known as hell and damnation. this photograph, you can see the men standing in the background. you can see them standing there in contact. that is the difference between the union and confederate lines. this photograph was taken after
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the war or at least during the truce. this is a typical unnion picket post. the role of the pickets was twofold, really. one was to absorb an attack if one occurred and act as a human tripwire, basically set off the return fire which would alert the rest of the army. the second role was to kill the other side's pickets. they were that close to each other. the book describes in detail, at this time for several months they were spending the night trying to kill each other. during the days they were exchanging gems, tobacco newspapers, coffee, and behaving as though they were neighbors and friends. at one point a rock was thrown into a union picket post from
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the rebel side with a note tight around that said, tell the fellow with the spyglass to clear out or we will have to shoot him. this is an engraving of union and confederate pickets trading, gossiping, exchanging news. there were even wrestling matches and foot races between the union and confederate troops cheered on by partisan fans. this epitomizes the camaraderie at the time. this is a photograph taken of lieutenant washington, a confederate prisoner of war. you can see his west point ring on his left hand if you look closely. on the right is lieutenant george armstrong custer. during the two day truce that
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took place when the commissioners were held up on the southern side of the line, grant was away. the men of the two armies intermingled so freely and completely that one rhode island soldier said two armies had gotten so mixed up that as far as regard to these two armies, a war would have ended right then and there. officers and orders to the contrary if those these commissioners had not been waived through when they were. this is the city point train station where the commissioners did arrive by train from the siege line. this is the officers' taverns. the larger one is grant's. you can see the large house that grant could and should have taken as his own residence. he gave that house to the commissary general from which
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the army was supplied. the three commissioners were exported to grants cabin by officers that were respectful and courteous to them. we see grant sitting among some of his officers. when the confederate vice president, the fugitive from the graveyard, was brought into grant's presence, stevens writes in his memoirs, "i was never so disappointed in my life, the impression being instantly favorable." he liked grant on the spot. they felt like they were in the home of a friend. he treated them with tremendous courtesy and respect. you can see the casualness of these men. they are surrounded by subordinate officers who are treating him with no great
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deference and that is the atmosphere that grant projected. stevens was brought to the line by his valet who was also a slave. i don't know if this is the same slave. stevens had a difficult time walking. he says that as he was brought to the waterfront where the commissioners were to be housed on a steamboat, he would never forget that he heard a soldier watching say, "which is stevens, which is the vice president? that one, on the arm of the black man. my god, he's dead, but he doesn't know it."
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"i got on the boat as quickly as i could with my assistant, ben travis." this is a model of the mary martin, the steamship where grant housed the commissioners when they were in city point. it was built by a very talented model maker. amazingly, once grant brought the commissioners to the mary martin, they thought they were going to bed and call it a night. they sat down to something in the nature of a surprise party. grant had gathered 50 other generals, the very men seen in this photograph. he had a banquet. there was food, and wine, and liquor. as campbell later says, it becomes a free and easy place.
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they tell stories about the old days. they laugh and joke. this is the fourth year of the civil war that is still raging almost within earshot of these men. stevens goes to bed early not feeling up to these revelries. the party lasted until 1:00 in the morning. at least they kept me talking and laughing. grant, the next morning, took them to meet his family, who were living with him city point. the children i think were pleased to meet live rebels in the flesh. he showed them his horses. this stallion named cincinnati was probably introduced. this pony named jeff davis probably not. general mead came by to chat with the commissioners. he was the victor at gettysburg.
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the book goes into length on this because it is an interesting conversation to -- conversation. basically, the southerners invited him to a coup of his own which he politely declined, as did grant. all of those officers who did meet with them were courteous, were complementary of them. one set of alex stevens, the lord seemed to have robbed that man of all of his blood to make brains of them. grant arrives back from north carolina, as i said. he meets major thomas eckard who stanton had set down from washington to vet his commissioners and make sure they were committed to peace.
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he brings with him orders from the secretary of war saying that he, eckert, is in charge and that grant will do what eckert tells him to do. that is a paraphrase, but that is the message. none of this endears grant further to stanton or to eckert. what happens next is a pretty remarkable series of events that i don't have time to get into here but the book details them at length. essentially, grant literally conspires with the southern peace commissioners to find a way past eckert. to get the right words that eckert will accept and agree to push them through and manipulates the military telegraph. he misleads lincoln over what is happening here. this is a cartoon that appeared after the peace conference that appeared in "harper's weekly."
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it is called flying to abraham's bosom. this is induced by grant. a wire sent to stanton, knowing that lincoln will read it, lincoln does come down to hampton roads to meet with these peace commissioners, satisfied that these rebels are willing and ready to accept a reunion. the meeting takes place at fort monroe at hampton roads at the mouth of the james river. a union for the that had never left northern hands. the meeting takes place again on the river queen which is, as i call it, the air force one of the day. it is a steam-driven vessel. very elaborately furnished and fitted out for a head of state.
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they meet in the same room where lincoln meets a month and a half later with his generals. there is much more of the conference than i can cover in this time but i will try to give you the highlights. stevens had been lincoln's friend in the congress of 1848 and a peacemaking ally of seward's in an effort to try to avoid the war. no longer the house of representatives chamber. it was at the time. lincoln and stevens had formed a club of young whigs at that time to oppose the mexican war and support the presidential candidacy of zachary taylor. seward on the right and senator virginia hunter on the left had been friends with stewart for 12 years.
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they were both fellow aristocrats. they were both whigs and good friends. this is the old senate chamber where they met at that time. they would have sit on the near side to us with jeff davis sitting over on the left with the democrats. you can sort of get a sense for what it is like to have these close friends for 12 years find themselves enemies coming together at the end of this horrific war. lincoln and stevens greet each other warmly. lincoln has a foot on stevens in height. stevens has what people described as a lilliputian voice. reaches up to lincoln, shakes his and, calls in mr. president. lincoln calls him stevens which is a familiar masculine kind of form of address that is just
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right. it does not snub his title, it doesn't recognize it either. there is an immediate warmth. stevens is wearing this wool overcoat. he looked like a large man, or least a normal-sized man. lincoln is thinking he has gained a lot of weight. he takes off the coat and he is down to 90 pounds. lincoln says that it never seen so small an ear emerge from so much husk. stevens laughs and it happily breaks the ice. the meeting gets off on that foot. they venture down and begin smoking cigars, telling stories recalling old friends, one of which is robert toombs, a georgian within very friendly with lincoln and stevens in a house and was now a wounded rebel general. in doing my research on him, i found -- lincoln asked about him
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particularly as he loved the guy and he wanted to know how he was. he was sorry to hear that he had been hurt. in my research, i found that toombs was described as one of the biggest dissident problems in history of the university of georgia and had been expelled in 1828. they talk about these old characters. they reminisce about crusty old john quincy adams who had served with them together in the house. seward and campbell had worked very hard to try to avert the war at the last minute during the crisis when campbell was on the supreme court and seward was secretary of state. they go through this 10 or 15 minutes of friendly reminiscing, almost reluctance to turn to the subject at hand.
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as i say in the book, and i will leave this up here, those are the five players. stevens in the upper left, hunter in the lower left stewart in the right corner, campbell down in the lower corner. a free black steward brought in water and cigars as a gentleman took their seats and began to reminisce. fragrant smoke filled the air tinged with the scent of nostalgia. better times were recalled, dead characters exhumed, amusing anecdotes told. there was rumbles of masculine laughter. stevens finally says after 10 or 15 minutes of this, "is there no way to put an end to these troubles, mr. president and put , us back to where the different sections of the country were friends?" he uses that term, the sections of the country, rather than these two different countries
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which is an important choice of words. lincoln says, "there is only one way i know of and that is for those who are resisting the national authority to stop." just as definitively as that. the laughter comes to an end. lincoln essentially plays bad cop at first as does stewart. takes a very stern and tough line. says there will be no mexican invasion. that this is something he did not even know about. he totally disavows that. he repeats his three demands for reunion. no truce, reunion, and no back peddling by the president on slavery. he will not negotiate with rebels in arms under any conditions. he basically says pierce submission. the south has to simply stop fighting and accept
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national authority. he says he cannot guarantee their political rights. hunter is slow to anger, but hunter becomes angry now. hunter says, you're are basically offering us nothing. we have to go back to richmond with something and you have to negotiate with us. in the english civil war, he said charles i negotiated with rebels several times. lincoln acquires what stevens describes as that indescribable expression that often preceded his hardest hit. "on questions of history, i must refer you to seward because he is posted in such things and i don't pretend to be bright. my only distinct recollection of the case is that charles i lost his head." stevens said that that settled hunter for a while.
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lincoln then begins to threaten them personally, not directly but in an indirect way. he says that he as president will promise them that he will be liberal in mitigating the pains and penalties of the law. hunter looks at him and says what you're saying, mr. president, is that we of the south have committed treason that we have forfeited our rights and are proper subjects for the hanged man. is that what your words imply? the gentleman from virginia was seeking reassurance, he was promptly disappointed. yes, lincoln said. you have stated the proposition better than i can. that is about the size of it. hunter smiles and says, well mr. president, we suppose that would necessarily be your view of our case, but we have
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concluded that we will not be hanged as long as your president as long as we behave ourselves." clearly, lincoln is softened by this flattered by the , implication that he is a soft touch. he goes back to a friend and tells them the story and he was pleased that hunter had said this to him. hunter knew what he was dealing with. having made these threats and laid down the law basically, lincoln and seward then revert to a good cop role. they have showed them the stick and now they will show them the carrot. i have concluded that lincoln was convinced that slavery was dead one way or another. there was no way that the south would be able to sustain slavery. what he was trying to do in this conference, we think, was to convince the southerners that
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there was some way to mitigate the way that would be achieved either by timing or by compensation, or by some negotiated resolution, with some elements of gradualism something , that would get them back into the union and see slavery dealt with in an efficient and proper way after they were back in. to that end, seward tell these three that the house had just ratified the 13th amendment and that slavery will now be abolished in the constitution as opposed to under the emancipation proclamation unless the south decides to come back into the union immediately in which case there will be 36 states, 11 of them by confederate, two of the remaining states, delaware and kentucky, had never abolished slavery. you know have 13 states out of
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36 that are in a position to block the ratification of the 13th amendment, at least temporarily until something that can be negotiated. i thought that was a pretty startling fact that seward had said that. lincoln goes on to tell the southerners that the north is just as responsible for slavery as the south. that northern shippers have taken the slaves from africa had sold them to the southerners, that northern merchants profited from the slave trade, that northern merchants still ran mills up in my area of lowell, massachusetts , and other places in the north that processed slave-picked cotton. northern consumers bought the cotton, bought the tobacco. everyone is in this together. we are just as guilty as you are, basically, is what lincoln tells them. i think what he is trying to do
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here is balance some tangible inducements for them to come back with a kind of a psychological inducement. look, we are not sitting here as your moral superiors, we are all in this together, we have to work this through. all of that said and there's much more about the concept but this is the highlights. the conference rakes -- breaks up in conclusively. lincoln says to stevens, well, there is nothing we can do for our country, is anything that i can do for you personally? stevens says there's nothing, and then he thinks of something. i have a nephew who is a prisoner of war in ohio up on lake erie. could you send him to me? lincoln says, i would be happy to do that and he takes his name and information. if you give me a northern officer of similar rank, he promises to free him.
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on the long trip home back to washington, seward and lincoln thought all of this through and try to think of the next move. the conference took place on a friday. the travel day was saturday. they get back to d.c. on sunday. on sunday morning, lincoln brings his son to gardeners photographic studio on seventh and pennsylvania. you can see the sign there. gardiner was one of the great civil war photographers. lincoln has his picture taken there with thad. he has his own picture taken at that time as well. he goes back to the white house and spends the rest of the day working on something that he can give. something, as hunter had
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pointed, that they can use to negotiate to try to push their own government into a negotiation. what he comes up with is a proposed proclamation to congress. he assembles his cabinet that night. for some reason that i don't understand, seward is not at this crucial meeting. the one crucial right arm that lincoln needed was not there. seward would like to send a proclamation to congress that would promise total amnesty and pardons for all of the southern leaders, would restore all of their property that had been seized during the war and if they did not come back, that property would be sold to help offset the cost of the war. if they abolish slavery within a
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couple of months, the federal government would pay $400 million to the southern states to compensate the owners of the slaves. the cabinet hears this proposition with uniform disapproval. this gentleman was the secretary of the interior. a man i the name of usher had been lincoln lost a close friend in the 1840's. he says in his diary that he is convinced that the cap it, that lincoln would have gone forward with this proposal and taken it to congress is a single member of his cabinet had endorsed it. congress would never accept it they said, and it would do them local harm even to propose it. the discussion didn't last 10
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minutes. usher writes with a sadness familiar, lincoln folded up his proclamation. you are all against me. after the meeting adjourned, he writes a note on the folded document that says, february 5 1865. today these papers which explain , themselves, were drawn up and proposed to the cabinet and unanimously disapproved by them. meanwhile back in richmond davis looks at the failure of the conference. uses it as a tool to incite more war. they said they had been insulted by the yankees by this demand for unconditional surrender. the "richmond dispatch" and other newspapers castigate the whole process to stir up further animus of the southern people to continue the war. two huge rallies are held.
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in the african church because this is the largest building in richmond. the african church is full of these white southerners all shaking the floor with booted cheers, cheering davis as he stands at the rostrum. campbell goes on to work as hard as he could in the next month, going first to lee, to try to get him to come forward. to push the country towards a negotiation. when lee refuses to do it, he goes to davis, he refuses to do it. everyone is pointing at everybody else. ultimately, lee is driven out of richmond by grant and retreats
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towards the western art of virginia. richmond is burned by confederate officials burning tobacco and munitions. the heart of the city is reduced to rubble. davis and his government flee the city. only campbell remains in the city to face the occupying union army and try to make the best he can for the people of the south. the streets are strewn with abandoned paper, with confederate money which is useless. grant's wife takes what amounts
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to a tourist excursion to richmond with her friends and is embarrassed immediately by what she sees. she goes back to the mary martin where the commissioners had been housed, sit out on the deck, looks out at the black and sitting listening to the frogs and cries at what she has seen. gideon welles, the secretary of the navy says that every senior confederate official had fled with heavy hearts and light luggage. the only one who stays is judge campbell who had been one of the three commissioners to face the northern army and try to act as a spokesman for his people. davis issues a statement saying that the war will continue until the baffled and exhausted enemy shall abandon in despair his endless and impossible task of making slaves of people resolved to be free.
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an endless supply of irony. with all of that, with the south completely on the ropes, lee fleeing with his army, richmond in ruins, lincoln gives campbell a written offer to the southern leaders to name their terms. he is willing to take them back, consider taking them back on any condition to be named by themselves, as long as they except reunion and the notion of no backwards steps on slavery. this message can go to no one in
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a position of authority. the war basically fizzles out. lee surrenders, as we know. he is pursued by grant. welles talks lincoln out of a proposition that lincoln had come back to washington with which is to recall the virginia legislature and have the virginia legislature come back and recall the seven truths from the war and basically take virginia back into the union.
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lincoln has into his head that north carolina might do the same and all of the states abandon the confederacy leaving davis to preside over nothing. wells talks about of this. most of virginia legislature comes back, who knows what they were due. we are in control, why should we give them any authority? stanton presses him farther on this. he succeeds in getting him to withdraw the offer and he later testifies that he thought he had been responsible for seeing to it that no southern leaders participated in the reunion process. lastly, of course, lincoln's life ended at ford's theater. a messenger comes with a message saying that mr. hunter and campbell have sent a message from richmond that they are ready to meet with him again to try to reassemble the southern leadership and make a lasting peace on a negotiated basis. lincoln looks at the note, i will do with this tomorrow. the war, of course, ends as it ends. we have the legacy of 100 years of bitterness which i think may
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well have been mitigated if there had been in discussion rather than a conquest. there is at least the possibility that with slavery being treated as lincoln proposed to treat it, that racial progress in the south may have come quicker and more recently than it did. that is of course pure speculation. there are many lessons for us in the story today. to avoid these gridlocked. especially, whether rich folks should be taxed at 32% or 35% instead of whether the confederacy will or will not exist. we have to find ways to do that. thank you. [applause]
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>> what month were they talking to lee about? >> that was in february. actually, the book goes into some detail that one of the other commissioners met with lee personally. he went to hunter's boardinghouse and told him you have got to stand up and be the leader ending this war. lee was told, what about you? you are the one man who can make this happen and lee declines to do it. he does not think it is his role. thank you very much. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2015] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit]
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>> former nation of islam minister malcolm x. was assassinated 50 years ago. he sat down for interview in 1963 as part of a sociology class at the university of california, berkeley. we will show that video on race relations in america tonight at 7:10 p.m. eastern time. it was conducted by professor john like it -- legget and teaching assistant herman like. >> the guard towers are gone but the memories come flooding back for so many people who until today has lost such a big part of their childhood. for many released after the war some buried the memories and with it, the history of this camp. now more than 60 years later.


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